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Tuesday, October 5, 2010
Speaking of SUP


Like ants to a picnic, everybody seems to be in line to SUP these days.

More than any of the other "action sports," save skiing and snowboarding, surfing's growth has forever been stunted by geography. Needing waves to surf, and an ocean to produce said waves, majority of America's landlocked population has always been cut out of the demographic. That's pretty much remained the tried and true rule ever since beach-blanket bingo was considered bad ass, that is until people picked up paddles and started calling it "surfing."

Love it or loath it, stand-up paddling (SUP) is by now considerably more than just a craze. Big-wave charging, flat-water racing, stroking around the Statue of Liberty, rivers, lakes, you name it, people are paddling it. Obviously if you've been out in the water lately I'm not telling you anything new, but what is interesting is that allegedly SUP boards have surpassed regular surfboards in sales in shops and online.

It's called the "Battle of the Paddle" for a reason.

This weekend, in a casual conversation with a friend, who's also the editor of SUP magazine, he noted the shift in purchasing habits and the rapid growth of the sport across inland waterways. "SUP boards have outsold surfboards over the last year," he told. As of this morning, I couldn't find the numbers to substantiate this, but it most definitely sounds plausible.

Why? Well for one, during the Hurley Pro I was talking with FCS mastermind Tyler Callaway, who as of late has expanded his business interests into the SUP market. "The surf stuff is still definitely there, but the growth is in stand-up," he explained. "SUP boards and equipment are going out to people and shops all around the country. It may be how surfing survives these tough economic times.

This past weekend Rainbow Sandals played host to their annual Battle of the Paddle event down at Doheny State Beach. With over 860 entrants from 60 different countries (the oldest being 73-year-old Micky Munoz and the youngest a spry six-year-old named Dax McPhillips), and an estimated 10,000 friends and family on the beach cheering them on, the sport's popularity is evident.

SUPapalooza down at Doheny.

Racers did battle on a five-mile loop that took them in and out of the surf (which was running at a pleasant yet challenging shoulder-high), and included a beach sprint in between laps. The race attracted numerous noted paddlers, nine-time world paddle champ Jamie Mitchell the most famous among them. But for all the cache that Mitchell's name brought, the win in the Elite Division went to Redondo Beach's Danny Ching.

"This was Danny's race, he was the man, he earned every bit of that and it was a great battle," said Mitchell. "I think the turning point came after the second lap when we were coming in to the beach. I got a wave and he was right there in front of me so I put everything into the run and caught right up. But after that, I was feeling pretty spent and just watched him drift away from me."

A growing market share, budding media outlets, big-time events and world-class athletes leading the charge. Add it all up and SUP's looking less like a trend and more like an actual sport.

Battle of the Paddle winner Danny Ching.